A tale of two amazing MMO character creators

Let me ask you a question: When is the last time that you created a new character in an MMO and felt, by the end of the character creation process, that you had a firm grasp on who that character was beyond superficial looks and combat prowess? Almost never, right?

If you have ever played a good pen-and-paper RPG, that is certainly not the case when you whip up a new character. You know a name, a backstory, a list of feats and weaknesses, native languages, personalities, and the like. It’s part of playing the role of that character, that you need more than just hit points, bust size, and damage output to partake in the game. When I was a kid, I always loved pouring over PnP RPG manuals to dream up an army of characters, each with their own unique place in the world.

Some single-player CRPGs still carry forth this legacy. Some actually give a damn about making an involved character creator process that gives the players lots of options and ways to customize a character so that, from the first minute of the game onward, he or she has a good grasp on who that character is.

MMOs? MMOs have largely given up on this. Character creation is boiled down to “pick a faction, pick a class, pick a race, pick a look.” We might laud them for having MANY classes or SEVERAL look options, but there isn’t a lot of width there.

Yet I can point to two strong examples of very different fantasy MMOs that nevertheless put a premium on establishing deep characters inside the creator itself rather than hours later in the game. The first would be Guild Wars 2, which astounds me today as it did nearly a decade ago with a 10-step (!) process to make characters.

Sure, some of those steps are pretty standard — look, class, race — but others help establish the outline of a backstory and seed future narrative events in the first part of the game. You pick choices that illustrate the personality and history of your character, such as the god you worship or your greatest ambition. You even select your character’s predominant personality trait, such as charm or deceit. These choices are often limited, but they’re immersive and often have some impact in the game down the road. I’ve always loved it, and by step 10, I feel like I am far more connected to my character than I am in other games.

The other game I want to praise is perhaps less-known, especially for this feature, but no less robust. Villagers and Heroes bowled me over the first time I went through its character creator. It’s apparent that a lot of love went into this part of the game, as the choices you make are not only written up as a multi-paragraph biography, but a narrator asks you questions and talks about your picks.

You can choose things such as your place of origin and pick a starting gear set. Not only do you select your combat role but also your village role — what gathering or crafting skills you have and what house you want. A game that gives me a house out of the gate? Get out of here!
I feel that the character creator is a lost art in MMORPGs. I don’t just want to pour over what I look like, I want to agonize over choices of who my character is and what motivates them. I want the game to recognize and respond to that. Maybe it’s a silly thing to champion, but it matters to me.

Guild Wars 2: What future does this MMO hold?

Is Guild Wars 2 starting to wrap up and wind down?

Honestly, I would never have thought so. I still don’t, not really. Guild Wars 2 continues to be a popular and populated game that makes a decent amount of cash for ArenaNet and NCsoft (although not as much as some of NCsoft’s eastern titles). It’s been getting a content update every few months and an expansion every other year. If you were to rank the top 10 healthiest and actively discussed MMOs right now, I’m pretty sure that GW2 would be in the top 5. To me, it seems that this MMO is firmly in its middle years where it’s found its groove and pattern, and we should be in for that for a while barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Yet. Yet I’ve heard rumblings. Massively OP’s Tina, who knows this game better than anyone else I’ve met, mentioned on the podcast a growing concern among the community — a perception — that GW2 may be preparing to end. The issue here, she explained, is one of story: The game has already done pretty much all it can with its 2,487 named dragons of lore that it can. It may be done with major threats and story beats.

Personally, I found this kind of ridiculous. There are always more villains, because writers can make them up. Same thing with story. Virtual history goes on, and so it could conceivably indefinitely for Guild Wars 2.

But Tina’s concern isn’t the only time I’ve heard this as of late. Some players are actively speculating that the tight-lipped ArenaNet is working on other projects — other titles or a Guild Wars 3 — instead of pushing hard for a continued future for GW2. It could be that GW2 is simply not making enough money for NCsoft, and we all know how that tends to fare for this company (then again, look how long they kept the underperforming WildStar running).

Some players seem absolutely calm about the prospect of GW2 going into maintenance mode as a so-far-unannounced Guild Wars 3 ramps up.  It’s no secret that ArenaNet banked hard on PvP (and WvW) becoming a Major Thing, including an esports franchise, and the cold, hard fact that it didn’t had to hurt future prospects. The lack of communication by the studio as of late and the slow pace of content rollout has a lot of people thinking… and talking.

Personally, I think it’s far too early to proclaim the death of Guild Wars 2 — or even its semi-retirement in the vein of Guild Wars 1. ArenaNet is still making bank on it, still enjoying a healthy dose of popularity, and still has a core game around which it can stick on new expansions. That has to be a much more easy way to make money than, you know, building an entirely new MMO from scratch.

I wouldn’t even blame ArenaNet if it decided to keep milking GW2 while it branched out into other franchises. The entire history of that studio has been that of a single franchise, and that must be getting a little stale for creative types.

What do you think? Any validity to these community predictions, or is it some wishful thinking and doomsaying?

Going mad (king) in Guild Wars 2

Right now, Guild Wars 2 is the “odd MMO out” of my roster of five games that I play in that it’s the only one that I’m logging into just to be with people and not to engage in any sort of progression — character, story, or otherwise. I have enough else that’s holding my interest that I probably wouldn’t be playing right now if it wasn’t for the fact that the guild I’m in is full of cheery and downright hilarious people. So I certainly don’t mind spending an hour or two with them once a week.

Our last outing was fully Halloween themed, and we broke out the appropriate minipets while talking on Discord about how downright creepy it is that the Guild Wars franchise has always featured small versions of people as “pets.” I mean, are they sentient? Are they clones? Do they scream in horror when you shove them back into a backpack? Does Queen Jenna protest that she’s actually a royal while you drag her along on a leash?

As we waited for the group to assemble, I amused myself by standing behind my pet ghost and giving it pink pigtails. I think it improves the look, don’t you?

We ran all of the expected content, starting with the Mad King fight. Lots of falling to our death and laughing about how horrible we are at jumping. Forget gliders, I wouldn’t mind a parachute in this game.

As you can tell, I’ve abandoned my newbie Mesmer and returned to my original character, my Engineer. I don’t care if it’s not optimal or if it’s out of fashion, I simply love the flamethrower as a weapon (and elixirs to empower it and give me speed boosts). We talked in chat a lot about our favorite classes and weapon styles, and I didn’t hear much that made me want to rush out and get the expansions for the Engineer’s elite specs.

Probably the most fun we had was running the Labyrinth, which is definitely something I remember from the first year that Guild Wars 2 launched. Wasn’t the Halloween event the game’s first event? In any case, it’s pretty much the same as it was back then: Follow the commander in a giant zerg, beat up bosses, and loots lots of loot hoping against hope that you’ll actually get something cool or useful.

Man, I am down on this game’s loot table. I’m sorry, but it really is quite pathetic. It’s like Vendor Trash: The MMO at times.

We did get a lot of giggles out of how unfair and mean the bosses were, especially when they resulted in our downings or death. It made me think about how even simple experiences, when shared, can be bonding. The Labyrinth isn’t anything complicated or difficult, but it is mindless fun that is done in the presence of a whole bunch of people, and that is a much different feeling than questing along.

GW2: Bouncy missions

“All right,” our guild coordinator said. “Tonight we’re going to be doing bouncy missions.”

“Excuse me, what?”

“Bouncy missions. You know, find those NPCs with a green icon over their heads and kill them.”

“…do you mean bounty missions?”

“I have a cold, don’t mock me!”

“I’m going to mock a little, sorry.”

I love our plucky little Guild Wars 2 guild, I really do. They’re a really funny bunch to run with and I don’t much mind what we’re doing as long as we’re doing it together. The “bouncy” mission was a quick bust, at least for me, as I was too slow in getting there. One of these days I’ll really need to pony up for the expansions so I can get my glider and mount. I’m still very much a land speed Asura.

Oh! Speaking of Asura, I changed things up and logged onto my original Engineer for the guild night. This was mostly because she’s the only character I have who has 100% map completion, which gave me every waypoint I needed.

The choice ended up being a good one. I got oohed and ahhed over as a cute little thing — I don’t see a lot of Asura, and most of our guild were tree elves — and soon enough I remembered how much fun this class was. Pistols? Shields? FLAMETHROWERS? How did I forget the flamethrower? Must have been a sharp blow to the head.

Following that, we embarked on a guild race. This is yet more game content I’d never done before. The mission turned us into skittering spiders who had to complete a race circuit without being killed (being squashed is easy, but at least you can try, try again until the timer runs out). We got classic spider abilities, like flinging webs, creating holographic decoys, and sonar. What we did not have is, you know, the ability to crawl up walls. That might have been useful in this mostly-vertical challenge.

Lots of death, laughter, and bad jokes ensued. One of our guild mates kept muttering, “skitter skitter skitter” on Discord, which for some reason cracked me up.

If you’re wondering, I died plenty enough to keep my ego at safe levels for the week to come. Eventually I used the strategy of “follow the crowd of spiders who know the way to the end and can also serve as a buffer between you and death should anything angry appear in our path.” And it worked, for I crossed the finish line with minutes to spare and received my just reward: a classic Guild Wars 2 chest with lots of nothing really special inside.

I swear, this game needs a good loot table.

Guild Wars 2: Puzzling out a dungeon

As I continue to acclimate to the Mesmer in Guild Wars 2 and experiment around with her different abilities, I’m rediscovering all sorts of things that started to fade into distant memories. These include the slickness of the UI, the general uselessness of loot, the tight animation/movement, and the joy that is BeeDog.

Oh, and I’m also being reminded that this game really does facilitate social events and challenges. I think I’ve ended up bumping into more players as of late than I do in most of my other MMOs, mostly because the design of GW2 is such that it puts out events that draw players in like ants coming for a delicious cookie.

Our guild has a regular night in which everyone gets together to tackle various things in the game, and when I logged in for the first one, we were coming together to fight a fire elemental and get some extra loot. After that, we headed off for a guild puzzle — something that I’ve only done perhaps one time before in my history with this game.

This was interesting. This “puzzle dungeon” was more about navigating environmental obstacles than fighting (or speed-running past) mobs, and most of us had never been in this particular one. I forget the name, but it took place in an icy cave where the man-made structures were falling down and on the verge of collapse. It gave the place a really skewed perspective with lots of heights and harrowing jumps.

Oh yeah. That’s another thing I’m remembering. Guild Wars 2 loves its jumping puzzles. Sigh.

Anyway, as a group, we had to figure out how to progress, especially through certain rooms that were set up as elaborate puzzles. The trickiest of these for us was one where we had to shoot icicles down to form a bridge to cross. It took us most of the first run to figure out how to do it, and in the second run, we came at it quickly and wrapped it up within a minute or so. That second run got bogged down in a later room, but on try three, we managed to reach the end before the timer ran out (there’s a 30-minute limit on these).

The loot was… Guild Wars 2 loot, I guess. It filled up my bags with stuff that I don’t need at the moment or would just break down for materials and store. But the group accomplishment felt great, and I genuinely enjoyed doing something together. Reminded me a lot of Dungeons and Dragons Online’s group dungeons, especially the ones where puzzles feature prominently.

Guild Wars 2 and the bubble wrap satisfaction

Learn from me and save yourself some future embarrassment by never saying “That’s it, I’m done with this MMO, and I’m never coming back.” Because, guaranteed, you’ll be back wearing some hoodie and sunglasses like you’re in the doofus protection program.

I hadn’t really thought about Guild Wars 2 for a long time — I think the last time I even dipped into this game was June 2017 — but the other week I’m on the MOP podcast and Bree is talking about it, and I blurt out that I think that me and this game are finally through. For good. For realsies.

That’s when God sends a memo to his Department of Ironies and asks for direct intervention in my interest. Because THIS week, Tina came on the show and was talking up the game, and before you know it, I’ve reinstalled the game and made a new character and found a guild and I HAVE NO INTEGRITY.

But I do have purple-pink butterflies, because I’m piloting a Mesmer. I waffled on a few different classes and races for a start-over (it feels too long to take up the mantle of one of my former characters), and the Mesmer eventually won out. It’s a class I haven’t stuck with to the cap, yet I’ve always loved the aesthetic and odd-class-out status. Plus, I’m all about that fencing fantasy, so I decided to give it another try.

Race-wise, I went with human because it ended up being the default. I’m not going to do Plant Elves, for obvious reasons, and Charr are just ten kinds of awkward-looking. I think I’m well past my infatuation with the Asura (nowadays I kind of think they’re creepy), which left me with humans and Plus-Sized humans.

So meet Eoan Echo. I wanted a slightly mystical-sounding name that worked in the word “Echo,” which is an awesome and unfortunately far-too-popular word for naming conventions. “Eoan” means something pertaining to the dawn or east, and I like how those two words flow together to sound effervescent.

As I logged in, I put out a call for guild suggestions (it’s been so long that I’m no longer in any of my old ones). Turns out that there’s a guild full of bloggers and Twitter friends called Kamikaze Runners, so I got plugged into that chatty bunch and started having my fun. Well, having my fun AFTER I transferred all of my stuff and new bags and my infinite harvesters that I spent too much money on back in the day. And all of the birthday gifts that I collected. Might as well hit the ground running!

Past that, I just enjoyed Guild Wars 2 the way I did back at launch: through map completion. I forgot how relaxing and enjoyable it is to just jog around the place ticking off vistas and hearts and waypoints. It’s kind of like bubble wrap, with that mindless popping of objectives without any larger narrative or pressure. Sometimes this is exactly what I need from an end-of-day gaming session, and darn it if it isn’t satisfying to see the progress being made.

And even though I do have enough experience scrolls and boosters to insta-level me to 80 many times over at this point, I’m going to level normally. There’s really no rush to get to 80 right this second, especially if I’m doing completion, and I enjoy the little milestones of the leveling process. I don’t have any of the expansions (still), so doing the lazy leveling route might show me if I really want to invest in those at some point or if this is a temporary fling.

At least I have my Bee Dog miniature. And my cool outfits and dyes. And all the butterflies I can stomach.

Battle Bards Episode 123: Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire

With eagerness in their hearts, the Battle Bards rush toward another Guild Wars 2 soundtrack, ready to bask in the aural glory of this MMO that’s known for its incredible music. But hark! What is this Path of Fire? Join us for a listen through a soundtrack that one unnamed soundtrack reviewer has termed “bland and generic.” If that isn’t a back-of-the-box quote, we don’t know what is!

Episode 123 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “On the Banks of the Elon,” “Highland Hares,” and “Undead of Elona”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “Sands of the Djinn”
  • “The Bounty Hunter”
  • “Legendary Ascent”
  • “Pricklepath Hollow”
  • “Welcome to Amnoon”
  • “Sands of Chaos (Percussion Version)”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener Notes: Minimalistway
  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Pharaoh, “Great Bustle” from Lost Sphear, and “Green Hill Zone Act 1” from Sonic Mania
  • Outro (“Veins of the Dragon”)